Quilted Layer Cake Throw or The Long Story of My First Finished Quilt

As a teenager, I cleaned house for an elderly neighbor who made quilts to give away to the homeless. I loved her creations and so wished she would make me one.  When my mom asked if she would as a high school graduation present, she said no, they weren’t pretty, and I wouldn’t want one. How sad that she couldn’t take pride in her work, even if she was only using her scraps.

I decided then and there that some day I would make quilts.  Unfortunately, my dream didn’t last long once I was started trying.


In my 20s, I was given my grandmother’s vintage sewing machine. My first project was a quilt-square-a-month project from JoAnn Fabric. Over 2 years, I finished 10 of the 12 blocks, I even bought the material to connect the blocks, hopeful that I was.  But the project stalled when I got turned onto making fabric gift bags – an entire project I could complete in just 30 minutes. I needed sewing projects that provided instant gratification. I was in graduate school after all and I had enough long-term goals I was working towards, I didn’t need a quilt hanging over my head.

Fast forward about 5 years. My grandmother’s sewing machine was limited in what it could do – it wouldn’t zig zag, it wouldn’t do buttons – it would only sew straight lines and I was itching to branch out.  My mom found an old (circa 1990s maybe) Singer at the thrift store she volunteered at.  I was in heaven.

Fast forward 2 years. I had quit my job because we started the adoption process. I worked at a small non-profit and I didn’t want to abandon them if we were matched with a baby just born at the hospital. We had a few leads early on but they weren’t good matches for us and I kept myself busy sewing for the future baby. After a few months, we had a bad experience with the agency and we eventually parted ways.  So there I was, at home every day with no baby to prepare for, but I had a sewing machine and energy to sew. My mom suggested I sell crafts, so I went to work sewing taggie blankets, skirts, burp clothes, and crocheting hats.

Fast forward 3 years to present day. We had switched to private adoption and an expectant couple had found us on Parent Profiles. She was due in 6 months, which is a long time to wait for things to finally happen, but they were committed and we really liked each other, so we thought it was worth risk. If it worked out, it would be amazing to have gotten to know them so well.

Two months before the baby was due, I struggled with what to get our expectant mom as a gift to thank her for choosing us to parent her child. It seemed logical to make something for her as a way to give her a part of me since she was giving me a part of her. I was searching for sewing projects online and came across a pattern for a Quilted Layer Cake Throw on Sew4Home’s website. It seemed like just the right project.  I loved that it was made from a layer cake – no cutting required – I loved how it looked, and I loved that the quilting was simple.

So I set out to find a layer cake. She liked the color purple, which posed a challenge in terms of what was available at the time. I finally settled on Kate Spain’s Good Fortune by Moda (I love Kate Spain’s fabric, but that’s another topic for another time). I actually bought two layer cakes because I also wanted to make a throw for my dad’s cousin who was recently moved into a nursing home after suffering a stroke.  That quilt took on a different life and will have it’s own post soon.

One modification I made to the Quilted Layer Cake Throw was to leave out the buttons and actually quilt it with my machine in diagonals across the squares.  Our expectant mother had a toddler and I didn’t want him getting his hands on a button that might fall off.


The top came together super fast once I decided how to arrange the squares – I tried to put the blues and purples in a diagonal stripe across the middle with oranges in the two corners. I tried to alternate light and dark squares with at least one coordinating color between adjacent squares and no repeated patterns touching.

I added the elephant applique to signify the adoption triad – birthparent, child, and adoptive parent – and because our expectant mother’s family loved elephants. It’s made out of a velour-type fabric, so it’s soft to the touch. It was a challenge to get the applique  to adhere because the fabric is so thick. I used Heat N Bond Ultra “no sew”, which was completely wrong. Because a secure bond was difficult due to the thickness of the fabric (I ultimately ironed it on from the wrong side), it didn’t entirely stand up to washing.  I re-ironed it after the first wash and then used a running stitch, embroidery floss, and a huge needle (from my grandmother’s stash) to secure it.


On the back, I went a little crazy.  I originally had the idea to embroider encouraging quotes on squares on the back side, but I soon abandoned that plan after making a couple mock-ups because I was afraid the shrinking after washing would make them hard to read.  So instead, I quilted single words – words of encouragement, blessing, and comfort – that I wanted to surround her when she wrapped herself in the blanket. And I embroidered the diamond/square around each word with a coordinating but lighter-colored thread using crazy quilt stitches found in the Big Book of Quilting: Hundreds of Tips, Tricks & Techniques, which was an invaluable resource for a newby quilter like me.

20130518_0383_adjThe sad part of this story is that the day after I finished the quilt – I mean finish, finished – washed and folded, ready to be packed in our luggage for the flight across country in 2 weeks – our expectant mother changed her mind and decided to parent, 4 weeks before her due date. At first I couldn’t imagine not giving it to her, I put so much time an energy into it with her in mind, specifically, but after not hearing from her for 3 weeks, the intense feeling of this quilt being hers faded.

So this beautiful quilt sits in my sewing room without a purpose. If we go through with a private adoption, I’ll probably give it to that birthmom since I doubt I’ll have this kind of lead time to make another quilt. The words of blessing will apply to any woman making an adoption plan – love, purpose, peace, courage, grace, worth, trust, joy, and hope.

UPDATE: I started dreaming up a new birthmother quilt, so I decided to send this one to the expectant mom we worked with for 5 months. After all, I made it with every intent for her. It was hard to think of anything but her when I saw it.  So I wrote a letter explaining the quilt and told her I expected nothing in return; I just wanted to bless her. I hope she was able to receive it well.

While this quilt didn’t live out its purpose, at least yet, one thing remains – I conquered my fear of quilts, which is good because I LOVE quilts and always wanted to make them when I grew up.  This pattern was a perfect intro to quilting. I bought a Walking Foot, which has changed my life as a sewer. I improved my binding skills. And most of all, I learned my limits and my abilities.

Thank you for joining me in the journey of my history with quilting – how I got from there to here.